5 ways to get free job training

  • New laws offer help to victims of global competition and mass layoffs.
  • Dislocated workers get special consideration for Pell grants this year.
  • Some schools give tuition waivers or discounts to the unemployed.

With one out of every 10 workers currently unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers across the country are updating their skills. Luckily you don't have to go into debt to retool your career. From company-funded retraining programs to adult-targeted financial aid awards to federally funded work force development centers, several free education options are available to help get the unemployed back on their feet. Check out these ways to reinvent your career without going broke.

How to get help
  1. Talk to the boss.
  2. Ask the government.
  3. Tap into colleges.
  4. Seek private funds.
  5. Change careers.

Talk to the boss

Before making a grand exit, Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, advises the recently laid off to investigate if their severance package includes cash or provisions for retraining or professional development.

"Companies have cut back on funding educational programs (for terminated employees), but some still do," he says. "It all depends on which company you're working for and the kind of position you're in."

While those with cushy jobs usually get the sweetest severance packages, workers in lower positions may be able to negotiate additional education benefits with the help of their labor union or simply by approaching their boss.

Ask the government

If the former boss won't pick up the tuition tab, try Uncle Sam, says Eleni Papadakis, executive director of the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board in Olympia, Wash. Through the Department of Labor's regional One-Stop Career Centers, the unemployed can find information on available jobs as well as free classes on basic academic skills, job preparation and computer training.

"One-Stop Career Centers also have information on funding for local dislocated workers," Papadakis says. "The economic stimulus bill injected almost twice as much money in training and education for dislocated workers, so there is funding if someone needs new skills to find work."

Papadakis adds that while the federal government provides free help to all job seekers, recent legislation focuses on two specific groups of dislocated workers -- victims of global competition and those of mass layoffs at nongovernmental facilities, where 50 to 499 full-time workers simultaneously lose their jobs.

According to the Department of Labor's Web site, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program provides workers in such industries as manufacturing, farming and production who lose their jobs to overseas competition up to 104 weeks of paid occupational training, remedial education or literacy training, as well as weekly cash payments for up to one year after their unemployment benefits run out. Victims of a mass layoff in industries that don't qualify for program funding may be able to score free retraining workshops, college courses or professional development classes through the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

Workers in either program may use their funds to update current skills or prepare for an entirely new career. Information on both programs as well as federal and state-funded retraining programs aimed at military veterans, minorities, women and underemployed workers is available at One-Stop Career Centers.


Tap into colleges

"It's a misnomer that financial aid is only for high school kids going to college in a traditional setting," says Wegenke. "Forty percent of our students are over the age of 25 and 90 percent get financial aid."

Those thinking about heading to college after getting laid off are in luck. This year the federal government, state governments, and individual colleges and universities have all created financial aid and tuition reduction programs aimed specifically at dislocated employees.

"One of the biggest changes is that dislocated workers (and homemakers) are receiving special consideration for Pell grants this year," says Linda Pierce, manager of the program compliance and support branch at the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training in Frankfurt, Ky. "That can pay up to $5,350 (per year) for their education."

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